Quick synopsis: A documentary about the rise and predictable fall of Dozhd, an independent news company based in Russia.
I don’t normally do documentaries, but this one intrigued me. It was difficult for me to find as I was searching for it under its original title, which is difficult to find as it includes symbols in the title. Then I found out it’s also got another name, and is available on iPlayer, which is nice (under the Storyville section).
This is depressingly needed now. The invasion of Ukraine didn’t come out of a vacuum, it’s been set up and orchestrated for years. I don’t go into politics that much in these, mainly because it’s quite dull, plus it dates the reviews which would mean they’re not as enjoyable to reread in a year or so’s time. But occasionally there’s some stuff that goes beyond political, and becomes stuff that needs to be said. Being anti-racist isn’t political, it should be default. Similarly, being against a lot of what Putin has done isn’t political, it’s basic human empathy. He’s a prick, and It’s weird to see the love people have for him, which I’m sure has nothing to do with all the media talking about how great he is.
The control he has over the press is terrifying. The fact that a news company can unintentionally be notable just for telling the truth is strange. When Dozhd change focus from a happy optimistic news channel to hard-hitting journalism, the knives of the regime come out. The rest of the media calls them traitors, which is weird it’s clear to see that they deeply love their country, and that’s why it’s unthinkable to them to not fight for ways to improve it.
Now more onto the film itself. Vera Krichevskaya is a good choice for this as director and narrator. This is a story that needs to be told from the POV of someone who was there. I will admit, that there are moments where someone with a more flowing voice might have been a better option. Or have it in Russian and subtitle her narration. But that’s a small issue. Someone doing the narration just for a job would have been a disservice to the station. And having it be someone who wasn’t Russian would be kind of weird considering that this is a very Russian story.
It’s edited beautifully, it flows together like a fiction film, there’s no awkward “oh they obviously couldn’t say anything about this section” or “they had nothing to say here”, it flows together with a real sense of purpose and deliberateness.
Some of the interviewers could stand out a bit more. It doesn’t help that some of them look VASTLY different from how they did back then. Plus since the story only really focuses on one person, you don’t really get a chance to know most of the people involved. It’s a shame as the small glimpses we get of them show they are interesting people. Plus it would be good to find out more about the psychology of people who take on a project like this. At times it does feel not so much a look at the staff, or even the channel itself, and more a story about the owner: Natalya Sindeyeva. It focuses on her a lot, sometimes to the detriment of the film. Thankfully it’s not TOO big a detriment, not only because the channel itself is clearly a passion project for her, so by talking about Natalya, you do get a sense of Dozhd too, but also because she’s such an interesting person. She has the kind of energy where if you were at a party and she was in the room, all the attention would move to her. She captivates you with her presence and undeniable charisma. So when we see her go through what she does, it just makes it feel so awful. She has to leave the country she loves just because she disapproves of the leadership. Her friends and staff have been arrested and beaten, just for protesting. It adds a personal touch to the tragedy which is everyday life for Russia. The fear the general population have lived under, the worry that they are just one sentence away from being tortured, and how their fellow countryman not only seem to accept it, but embrace it.
Here’s the thing to remember though: all this shutting down of protests, all those arrests of “dissidents”, all of those inhuman government decisions that removed the rights of millions of people and killed thousands, all of them happened alongside the backdrop of silence from the UK and US governments. None of this was a problem to them. All of this was completely fine as long as Russian oligarchs still spend money on penthouse suites in London, or purchased our football clubs or sold us gas. People in bed with the Russian government performing these horrendous actions were still given access to Conservative politicians. All of this was completely fine. If our public figures had enough guts to stand up to them then, and started looking for other energy sources then the Russian military operation of this year wouldn’t have been as destructive on us as it is.
The Ukrainian invasion is mentioned very briefly in the end but it really changes this film. It would already be a compelling documentary, but knowing what comes after is a real kick in the balls and face. The fact that the channel still operates, but has had to move to another country for its own safety is a sign of pessimistic hope. In summary, well worth a watch, utterly fascinating, but in a depressing way.